Can former Colts punter Pat McAfee host a successful national radio show?

Pat McAfee is smart as hell, engaging as hell, and restless as hell.  That gives him a hell of a shot at being a successful sports talk radio host.

As a standalone gig, a daily radio show is a lot of work.  Coupled with his roster of responsibilities as an analyst for ESPN’s Thursday night college football package, Friday contributor to Get Up, and performer on DAZN, Pat is going to be a very busy former punter.

Let me tell you a few secrets about sportstalk radio that we don’t discuss much outside the fraternity of those who work in it.  The first is that hosting a radio show is hard work.  It isn’t laying bricks or digging a ditch, but the relentlessness of hosting a daily show can be withering.

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We always say it’s the easiest and best job in the world because listeners don’t want to hear about how hard it is to sit in front of a microphone and talking about sports.  The truth is that being interesting and entertaining on command whether interviewing a guest, sharing perspective, or taking calls every segment of every show can be daunting.

Pat is going to learn some things about himself and radio during the first few months of the show that will determine whether it succeeds.  Here are a few of them:

  • The worst segment of each day’s show, not the best, will define the quality of the show for listeners.  Blowing off a segment is not an option if the show is going to succeed.  Listeners perpetually evaluate the product, and another station is easy to find.
  • Authenticity is the key to connecting with listeners.  Trust is everything on the radio, and that trust is built slowly and surely through a host being himself.  It’s a one-on-one relationship for listeners, even if the host is sitting alone in a barren studio.
  • Serious profanity has a consequence beyond offending a couple of puritans.  The FCC is very serious about “protecting” listeners from obscenity, and as the host of a network show Pat will be responsible for protecting the broadcast licenses of his affiliates.  Those stations will almost all be unmanned during his show, which means someone in Pat’s studio better damn well be ready to hit the delay button to keep Pat’s occasional f-bombs from blaring out of car speakers.
  • Eighty-percent of listeners will tune in for the “what” of the show, and 20% for the “who”.  That means 20% will listen to Pat talk about anything, but 80% will listen because of what Pat talks about.  The luminescence of Pat’s personality will not be enough to carry the show – the content has to be compelling too.
  • Former WIBC Sportstalk host Kevin Lee once told me, “Anyone can do one good show.  That’s easy.”  He was right.  Doing one good show every day for months and then years is insanely difficult and requires enormous discipline.  Despite his well-earned reputation as a very smart kook, Pat knows discipline, and he will need it.
  • Radio can be magical, but that magic cannot be planned.  It only happens organically.  Somehow, I don’t think Pat will be tempted to overplan.  The diligent planning and production raises the floor for each segment, the ability to follow the magic as it happens will raise the ceiling.
  • Bruce Gilbert knows what he’s doing.  This is a little inside radio, but Bruce is Pat’s boss and one of the smartest and most dedicated guys in radio management.  Pat should listen to every word from Bruce as though it was etched on a tablet from on high.  Bruce will be an enormous asset in Pat’s evolution from a compelling and funny former punter into a competent radio host who is compelling and funny.

Whether this show works will be entirely driven by Pat’s ability to see each segment as a crucial opportunity to connect with listeners.  In a two-hour show, Pat will have eight segments per day that require focus, discipline, energy, and authenticity.  It’s going to have to be as fun and challenging for him on day 186 as it is on day one.

Whatever happens, I’ll be fascinated to hear it at 10 a.m., September 9th, on CBS Sports 1430 in Indianapolis.

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